Worried NYT Frets: 'Season of Fear' for 'Undocumented' in Iowa

August 14th, 2017 10:02 AM

Illegal immigrants (or rather, “undocumented immigrants”) remain safe under the rhetorical protection of the New York Times, if not the legal protection of American law, with the paper going so far as giving out tips for the “undocumented” to remain illegally in the “draconian” United States.

The top of Sunday’s Times front page featured a 3,000-word sympathetic tale, complete with huge photos, of an illegal immigrant family in Hampton, Iowa, choosing to self-deport after the husband was arrested. The only unflattering photo was one of Sheriff Linn Larson who has “pledged to run immigration checks on people in custody and cooperate with immigration detainer requests.”

Reporter Jack Healy unfolded his long tale under the headline “Loving and Leaving America -- Stay, Hide, ‘Self-Deport’? Facing Hard Choices in the Heartland.”

The online caption underlined the story’s pro-immigrant slant, complete with the "undocumented" euphemism for illegal immigrants: “Edith Rivera loved her life in Hampton, Iowa, but for many undocumented immigrants like her, this summer has been a season of fear or flight.”

It was quitting time. Edith Rivera took one last lunch order, dropped off a basket of tortilla chips and set off from work, heading out to the farm roads where other immigrants feared to drive.

Like them, Ms. Rivera, 33, had no legal status in the country where she had lived for 18 years. She had no driver’s license, apart from the long-expired North Carolina identification she held safe, like a talisman, in her wallet.

But as she skimmed past the northern Iowa cornfields on her way to her son Steven’s seventh-grade track meet, she did not share other immigrants’ fears. Not of being pulled over. Not of raids or deportation. Not of the man in the White House. Not of the new Franklin County sheriff’s quest to make sure this rapidly diversifying community of hog barns and egg farms would never again be known as an immigrant sanctuary.

Her American journey was waning, and she had little left to lose.

Her husband, Jesús Canseco-Rodriguez, was already gone -- deported to Mexico in 2015. Ms. Rivera had jettisoned their apartment and sold off what the family had built here in Hampton: their small business power-washing hog barns, Mr. Canseco’s work truck, their furniture.

Now, at this tense juncture for immigrants and their adoptive hometowns across the conservative swaths of rural America, Ms. Rivera planned to sever one last tie. She was returning to Mexico -- and to her husband -- with Steven, 13 years old and American-born.

Some politicians call it “self-deportation.” She called it her family’s only hope of being together.

The heartland is freckled with Hamptons and Ediths. In small agricultural towns that supported President Trump by 20-point margins, residents are now seeing an immigration crackdown ripple through the families that have helped revive their downtown squares and transform their economies.


Hampton, population 4,400, rises from the rolling fields of northern Iowa, a courthouse clock tower and grain elevator forming its simple skyline.

It is a place where neighbors catch up at the Fareway market’s butcher counter; where the economy revolves around corn, hog confinements and egg farms, and where Latino immigrants do more and more of the work as the white population dies off or moves away.

The town tumbled into the nation’s immigration debate early this year when the newly elected county sheriff, Linn Larson, told the community he was ending policies that had added this tiny county to national lists of immigrant safe havens. Sheriff Larson said he would share arrest information with immigration officials and cooperate with them when asked.

“The only sanctuary I plan on offering is to the law-abiding people that want a safe place to raise their families and work,” he promised.

The county commissioners backed up the sheriff, and many residents said they liked his stance.

At the Hardee’s along Highway 3, where tables of machinists, farmers and retirees sip 99-cent coffees each morning and hash out the day’s news, many said they supported a harder line on immigration.

Healy implied that there was a contradiction between “compassion, kindness” and support for Donald Trump.

For many immigrants in town, it was a season of fear. Some papered over windows and front-door peepholes. Parents who dreaded being detained drew up contingency plans for what should be done with their children and cars.


Conversation by conversation, longtime Hampton residents struggled to reconcile their support for the president with the values they cherished: compassion, kindness and charity for their neighbors and friends.


But times have changed.

And last year, Mr. Pearson, a conservative Republican, yearned for a change in the White House, despite his misgivings about the candidate promising it.

Healy constructed a tear-jerker ending for his tale, adhering to the storytellers’ golden rule of showing, not telling:

It is quitting time.

The Des Moines International Airport is almost empty at 3:30 in the morning on July 21, save for two women and a 13-year-old boy, lugging overpacked suitcases through the departures terminal. Ms. Saldivar drove them here from Hampton, and is helping them check in.

Steven is keyed up. He plays with a fidget spinner, makes origami shapes out of a gum wrapper and worries about whether his baseball cap will give him hat hair before he sees his dad.

Ms. Rivera barely slept. She woke at 2:30 to do her makeup and now hurriedly transfers shoes and shampoo between suitcases to stay within the luggage-weight limits. “What am I going to take out?” she asks Ms. Saldivar in Spanish.

She straightens Steven’s watch and picks an invisible speck of lint from his red Hampton T-shirt as they wait. Only one aspect of her life feels good now, she says: that she’ll be with her family.

She and Ms. Saldivar embrace. They say “I love you,” and promise to see each other again.

“Algún día,” Ms. Rivera says. Someday.

A Delta agent asks for their passports.

“Do you have a return date?” she asks.

“One way,” Ms. Rivera says. “No return.”